Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Interview with John Finn, Part I of II

On July 13th, 2017, the Canadian Angus Association’s Administration Team Leader Tina Zakowsky had the chance to sit down with John Finn, a retired livestock transporter who had some very interesting stories to tell. In Part I of II, John recounts a bull he transported whose worth was much more than he anticipated.

Tina: Today I am interviewing John Finn for the Canadian Angus History Project, and we’re discussing the bull Massive of Kaharau. John, tell me how you came to know this bull.

John: In the summer of 1974, I was hauling cattle, among other things, for the Stampede Cattle Station just east of Stavely, Alberta. I can’t remember exactly what month it was, but I had a horse van with me because I had just delivered a load of race horses down to southern California. When I phoned back to see if there was anything for me to bring back to Canada, they told me to go up to the San Francisco Airport and pick up an Angus bull. I knew I could reconfigure the horse trailer to make it a box stall so the animal wasn’t the only thing in a big van, and that way he could be comfortable and lie down or have walls to lean on if he wanted. So I headed up to San Francisco.

When I get to the airport, I ask one of the staff where their livestock handling facility is. I get a blank look, and the man says, “There isn’t one.”

“Well I’m supposed to pick up an Angus bull here,” I say.

“Oh!” The guy starts nodding his head. “He’s out there in a crate on the tarmac.”

So I look out and, sure enough, here is this great big Angus bull in a crate, sitting on the black tarmac with four foot side walls.
Tina: And what time of year was this?

John: Middle of summer. So I think, “Okay, how am I going to do this?” I look around and there are these lines of baggage carts everywhere, so I grabbed a few and made a corral around the crate with a short alleyway. I parked the van sideways because there was a side ramp that would allow me to get Massive into the area of the trailer I wanted him to be in.

The next problem was that he had a neck rope tied to an I-bolt in the floor, so I obviously have to untie that to get him out into the corral. But whenever I try and reach into the crate and jerk the rope so we can get it off, the bull starts trying to break my arm with his head, pushing it up against the crate. Well, he had just come out of quarantine in Hawaii, where every time a human got close to him they jabbed him with a needle, so he was not happy with anyone being around him just then. So I get my co-driver Terry, a French Canadian guy, to get on the other side of the crate and start getting his attention any way he can so that Massive is occupied with him and I can sneak my arm down where he won’t see it and jerk the rope. It worked, so then we had to back him out and into the little corral I’d made of baggage carts.

At this point Massive doesn’t voluntarily want to walk up into the trailer, so I had to hop into the makeshift pen with him and play rodeo clown and have him chase me up into the trailer.

Terry asks me, “Well what do I do?”

I said, “You slam that door behind me.”

“But how will you get out?”, he asked.

“Never mind that,” I said. “You just make sure that bull does not get back out of the trailer.”

The plan, as ridiculous as it sounds, worked. Once we have him loaded up, I’m given a stack of papers. I know that he’s a registered bull from New Zealand, but I really don’t have much else to go on, and I’m not about to open up a stack of sealed envelopes not meant for me. But I do know he’s valuable, so when I’m driving through the streets of San Francisco I’m leaving lots of room ahead of me through all the stop-and-go traffic. When I’m transporting horses they’re usually in a stall where they can lean up against the walls, and if it’s cattle they usually got each other to lean on, but this guy is in there by himself and he can’t tell which wall to lean on when I’m turning, so I had to be real careful. The trip was made even worse by the drivers that would sneak into the space in front of me and slam on the brakes, so by the time we were heading over Donner Pass it felt like coming out of a nightmare. Thankfully everything was fine by the time we got to the border, and I went and dropped off the papers at customs so I could head across the road to the Canadian vet who would check the bull out.

We’re there getting the animal papers all signed off, and all of a sudden a bunch of these guys from customs come over. I know the port director from past trips, so I ask if there’s a problem. He says, “We’ve just never seen a bull this expensive.”

“Really?”, I ask. “How expensive is he?”

The port director pauses. “According to the commercial invoice we have to process, it says he’s a million and a quarter dollars.”

Tina: In 1974.

John: In 1974. Apparently he was the highest priced bull ever sold in Austral-Asia at the time. Needless to say I was relieved that there were only 100 and some odd miles up to Stavely from there before I could unload him. If I had known the value of that bull when I was unloading him in San Francisco using baggage cars for a corral system…

Tina: (laughing) Would you have done anything different?

John: Probably not, I just would’ve been a nervous wreck.

Massive of Kaharau

Post by Kiani Evans
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